public transport in London

When in London, you will most likely travel by public transport a lot. It is cheaper to purchase a Travelcard or Oystercard than to buy single tickets for every trip you make by tube, bus or overground trains. On this page I tell you what type of card will best match your needs. At the bottom of this page you can read where to buy your travel card. If you’ve read all my advice and are still not sure what card you should purchase, then have a look at this website.

Monkey has his own Oystercard.

Monkey has his own Oystercard.

General info

Now first some general information followed by more detailed information about the Travelcard and Oystercard.

  • To plan your trip on public transport, use the Transport for London website.
  • I use the Tube Deluxe app for iPhone to plan my trip when I’m on the move, but it doesn’t work offline (Virgin Media offers free wifi at most London train/tube stations though).
  • Pick up a copy of a tube map at the tube station or download the free iPhone app that also works offline.
  • Children under 11 years old travel for free when travelling under the supervision of an adult.
  • Ticket prices for London public transport depend on the time of day you’re travelling (more expensive if you travel during peak hours than during off-peak hours) and also in what zone (zone 1 being the most expensive zone).
  • Peak hours are: only Monday to Friday between 06:30 to 09:29 and between 16:00 to 18:59. During these hours it’s more expensive to use public transport.
  • On this page you can find maps for public transport and see in what zones the city is divided.
  • Bear in mind that your European Maestro bank card might not work at the station to buy your travel card. Have some cash at hand or try paying with your credit card. Read about the use of Maestro bank cards on my page Practical info.
  • Since July 2014 it isn’t possible to pay cash for your bus fare on London busses anymore! You can pay for your bus fare with a Visitor Oyster Card, Oyster card, Travelcard or UK-issued contactless payment card. With all electronic cards, just look out for the contactless symbol and only touch one card on the card reader.

Travelcard

You can only buy a Day Travelcard or 7-Day Travelcard. For a Day Travelcard you have the option between Anytime and Off-peak travel cards. The 7-Day Travelcard is only available as an Anytime travel card.

When you use a Travelcard, you pay a fixed amount and can then travel unlimited during the travel time and in travel zones you’ve chosen for 1 or 7 day(s). Even if you haven’t used a Travelcard on a day or only made two tube trips, then you pay the maximum for that day anyway. With an Oystercard you only pay for the actual trips you made that day. Most of the times, Oystercards work out to be cheaper than Travelcards. People just tend to buy Travelcards because they think it’s the easiest and cheapest option, but it’s not.

Put your Travelcard as indicated through the gates at the tube/train station. On the bus you just show the card to the driver.

Oystercard

Unlike Travelcards, Oystercards remain valid for unlimited time. So, they don’t expire after a week, month or year. You pay a few British pounds as a deposit for the card itself. To travel with the Oystercard, you put money on it. You can top up Oystercards at the station with a person or on a machine (be aware that your European Maestro card might not be accepted! Read about this on my page Practical info).

When you leave London you can decide to keep the card for any future trips (as they remain valid) or return them and get your remaining money on the card back in addition to the deposit for the card. Note that you will only get a refund if you have paid for the card in cash and still have the receipt (so, not possible if you’ve ordered it online or paid for it by credit/debit card).

When you travel by Oystercard, the system automatically works out the cheapest fare price for you. Unlike with the Travelcard, it doesn’t matter if you travel during peak hours or off-peak hours. It will automatically charge you the correct amount. It is by far cheaper to travel with an Oystercard than when you buy a single ticket each time. All you have to do is to touch in and touch out on the big round yellow pads by the gates on the train/tube station. When you travel by bus, you only have to touch in (and not out).

Don’t worry if it turns out you’re making many trips by public transport on a day: when you’ve reached the costs of a Travelcard on a day, your Oystercard won’t charge any additional money for further trips. You will still have to touch in and out though!

Where to buy your Travelcard/Oystercard

Online

In London

  • Bookshops or off-license shops that sell Oystercards have a sign for it in their window.
  • Arriving at Stansted airport? You can’t buy your travel cards there. You have to do that at Liverpool Street Station or at another station in town.
  • Arriving at Gatwick airport? You can buy your travel card at the Gatwick Express desk.
  • Arriving at Southend airport? You can’t buy your travel cards there. You have to do that at Liverpool Street Station, King’s Cross station or at another station in town.
  • Arriving at Heathrow airport? Buy your travel card at the desk by the underground.
  • Arriving at St Pancras International train station? Buy your travel card at the desk by the underground in King’s Cross station (right next to St Pancras).

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